Bygone Badass Broads & Books: Sonya Goldenhand, Noor Inayat Khan, Ching Shih


I am very excited to be joining YA Interrobang for a monthly feature Bygone Badass Broads! If you’re not familiar with the series, every Friday at 1 pm EST, I take to my Twitter and wax poetic about the story of a forgotten badass woman from history and why you should know about her.

Today, I am delighted to be sharing a wrap up of the women I talked about this month as well as some book recommendations to go with them!

Sonya Goldenhand (1846ish – ??)

Russian lady thief and ringleader of Moscow’s most notorious band of smugglers, thieves, and ne’er do wells. Sonya was a fan of the long con, elaborate disguise, and other people’s jewelry. Read more about her story here! 

If Sonya Goldenhand’s your jam, you might like…

six of crows leigh bardugoSix of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Sonya Goldenhand reminds me of no one so much as real-life lady Kaz Brekker. Plus the eastern European inspiration for the world ties in nicely to real-life Sonya’s origins.

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan
A pickpocket is recruited to join a spy ring in the court of Queen Elizabeth, putting her underworld skills to use in high society. Sonya’s heart would swell with pride.

au revoir crazy european chick joe schreiberClassy Crooks Club by Alison Cherry
A heist ring run by grannies? This could basically be the story of Sonya Goldenhand in her geriatric years.

Au Revoir Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber
More of a spy novel than a heist one, but it’s certainly the sort of extended chase sequence that Sonya probably would have appreciated, and if you love the stories of her cons, you will too.

trust me i'm lying mary elizabeth summerTrust Me I’m Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summers
A teenage con artist seems like the kind of gal Sonya would have approved of. Can’t you just see her taking Julep under her wing? And then eventually they would probably turn on each other and have a bitter falling out.


Noor Inayat Khan (1914 – 1944)

Indian Muslim woman and descendant of literal royalty who survived five months of undercover work in Nazi occupied France, linking Britain to the French resistance and basically slaying. Read more about her story here!

If Noor Inayat Khan’s your jam, you might like…

code name verity elizabeth weinCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Not only is this the book of my heart that I sometimes begin to openly weep over while describing to strangers, it is also the book that led me to the story of Noor. Two best friends – a spy and a pilot – are shot down over occupied France and journey back to each other.

A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee
Different time period than Noor, but lady spies! Who doesn’t want more lady spies in their life?

wolf by wolf ryan graudin ukFor Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A middle grade novel about a young woman who serves as a spy for the French resistance. And it’s a true story! Bonus points!

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Badass women and World War II? Check. Also motorcycles and a plot to kill Hitler. Alternate history at its best.

climbing the stairs padma venkatramanViolins of Autumn by Amy McAuley
A British spy in occupied France! Perhaps she crossed paths with our lady Noor.

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
If you’re interested in reading about the WWII experiences of other women of color like Noor, this book about the impacts of the war in India is for you!

Ching Shih (1775-1844)

Lady. Pirate. Fighter. Badass. Commanding a fleet of 1,800 ships and 63,000 men in 1800s China, making her the most successful pirate in history. Read more about her story here! 

If Ching Shih’s your jam, you might like…

bloody jack l.a. meyerthe Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer
Not only is this my favorite series of all time, and not only is Jacky Faber the spunky sassy piratey leading lady you didn’t know you needed, but Ching Shih herself makes a cameo later in the series – that’s where I first learned about her!

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
Lady pirates! And the heroine is a POC like Ching Shih! Also sea monsters. A complete package.

serpentine cindy ponSerpentine by Cindy Pon
I think Lady Ching would approve of this fantasy inspired by Chinese folklore and featuring a protagonist that kicks as much ass as our pirate queen.

Pirates! by Celia Rees
Two girls join a crew of pirates in the 1700s, packed in an amazing historical voice and brilliant historical detail. This book is absolutely lucious.

the girl from everywhere heidi heiligThe Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
A time traveling pirate ship in 1840s Hawaii, searching for a lost map and also treasure along the way. No such thing as a bad pirate novel, especially when there’s time travel involved.

What book are you most excited to read? Sound off in the comments below!

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About Author

Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee is a reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College is the author of THIS MONSTROUS THING, a steampunk reaimgining of Frankenstein, and the forthcoming THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE, both from HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home.

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